Talk to Me About the Utah Inversion, Goose

Feb 3, 2020
By: Melinda Rhodes

To hear Maverick and Goose explaining how they communicated while inverted is pure cinematic gold. Unfortunately, Utahns are all too familiar with a different kind of inversion, one that no one likes to see. The kind that turns skies in the Salt Lake Valley and Cache Valley a hazy shade of winter and moves the meter measuring Utah air quality to dangerous levels. Something that causes residents to communicate with car idlers, single drivers and wood burners in a Maverick kinda way. (Watch the birdie!)

Exactly what is an inversion, you ask? This geographical phenomenon is caused by warm air rising and trapping pollutants like a “lid” on Utah’s mountainous “bowls.” The gunk (called dangerous particulate matter by those intellectual types) can’t escape until a storm comes along and washes it away — in much the same way that lunch Tupperware you left in your desk drawer over the weekend needs to be hosed off.

Looking down from Snowbird at the Salt Lake Valley.

How to Improve Air Quality

We have no control when it comes to thermal inversions, but we can reduce the amount of pollution in the air so we don’t lose that lovin’ feeling for Utah that’s present the rest of the year.

Get a Wingman

You have problems with the masses. You like being a lone wolf. We get it. But sometimes ya gotta embrace the group mentality. Carpool to work. Ride the ski bus up the canyon. Take Trax. Buy a tandem bicycle.

Whatever it takes so you’re not flying solo.

Say Goodbye to an Old Friend

If you absolutely, positively can’t forgo your need for speed in favor of mass transit, consider getting a hybrid car or an all-electric vehicle. It can be hard to let go and throw that key fob in the ocean (figuratively speaking, of course), but there are plenty of models that go just as fast without fuel. You can also give up gas-powered snowblowers and other yard tools and get rechargeable equipment.

Don’t Buzz the Tower

Not only will you anger the Admiral, but unnecessary flybys create more carbon emissions. Don’t drive to the dry cleaners on Monday only to go to the bakery next door on Tuesday … no matter how delicious that raspberry scone sounds. Combine trips to reduce tailpipe toxins that contribute to Salt Lake City pollution. An added bonus? You’ll save time, too.

Turn and (Don’t) Burn

If your car is going to be stationary for more than 30 seconds, turn off the engine so you’re not burning gas. The exception to this rule is idling in traffic, which is necessary for safety reasons. But don’t sit in the parking lot idling while you wait for your perpetually late kids/friends/coworkers. Walking into the gourmet soda shop to get your sugar fix rather than waiting in the drive-thru with all the other peeps who are about to crash and burn (faster than that naval aviator did in the ladies’ room) is also a good way to reduce pollution.

Do Not Fire

Speaking of burning … how about you don’t roast chestnuts over an open fire? As charming as this may seem in the winter, studies from those aforementioned intellectual peeps show smoke from wood-burning appliances accounts for as much as 15% of the particulate matter in that despised Utah smog during a bad inversion. And the state offers incentives to residents who replace traditional fireplaces with gas or electric models.

Where to Escape the Haze

Despite your best efforts to keep it clean, there are going to be times when you just need to get out from under the dirty air hanging over your head. Go somewhere where you can hike, run, bike or boogie without worrying about inhaling dangerous particulate matter as you exert your energy. Rise above the Utah inversion and breathe easy with a quick trip to one of these destinations.

Park City

The EPA gives Park City an air quality score of 86/100. The average in the United States is 58. Instead of taking the highway to the danger zone known as Salt Lake City, turn your carpool around and get out of the smog. You’ll be greeted by azure skies on the other side of the rugged Wasatch Mountains. There’s an expansive network of fat-tire trails here, along with snowshoeing routes and groomed nordic courses. You can even go dog sledding. Oh, yeah … there are also some world-class resorts here if you’re into downhill skiing or snowboarding.

Just a walk in the Park (City), Kazansky.

St. George

Chances are you won’t actually find snow in Snow Canyon State Park during the winter, but thanks to migrating tortoises (no joke!), some hiking trails are only open from October 31 – March 15, including the Johnson Canyon Arch Trail. If you’re up for a few more miles, run on the paved trails by the Virgin River. Your lungs with thank you for the clean air. Pickleball is a popular pastime here, with courts practically everywhere in the city. St. George is also a great place to golf in the winter.

This is what I call a target-rich environment.

Moab

Red rock dusted with snow will take your breath away, but not in the same way the inversion does. Inhale deeply as you watch the sunrise framed by Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park. You’ll practically have the place to yourself. Exhale as you turn your face to the sky while bouldering at Big Bend. Cool temperatures (highs range from 45°F in December to 52°F in February) make your shoes extra grippy and your hands less slippy. And don’t forget to play a round of extreme disc golf at Base Camp Adventure Lodge, ya big stud.

Take me to Moab or lose me forever.

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